Junior forward Doug McDermott continues to make his case to be the National Player of the Year in college basketball. Just four days after an unbelievable 39-point performance at Missouri State, McDermott returned home and put on a show for the 17,391 fans that packed CenturyLink Center Omaha for No. 10 Creighton’s match-up with the University of Northern Iowa. After a slow start, McDermott came on strong in the second half and finished with 31 points to lead the Jays to a 79-68 victory over the Panthers.
“He’s a tough player,” UNI senior forward and the player charged with defending McDermott Jake Koch said. “He does a wide range of things. He works hard for his points.”
McDermott is now second in the country in scoring at 24 points per game while shooting 56.8 percent from the field, 50.7 percent from 3-point range and 87.2 percent from the free-throw line. He has also chipped in 7.2 rebounds per game and led his team to the best record in the country at 17-1. McDermott has only picked up his play since entering the Missouri Valley Conference season, putting up 25.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game on similar shooting percentages in the Jays’ six victories against Valley foes.
McDermott has scored 70 points in his last two games, and 59 of those points came in the second halves, where he connected on 18 of his 23 field goal attempts. McDermott has been nothing short of tremendous for the Jays this season and over the last couple of games in particular. As he continues to pile on the points, and the Jays continue to rack up the wins, McDermott will be the focus of more and more attention on both the local and national level. But McDermott pays no mind to the background noise.
“I just try to block it out,” Doug McDermott said. “Just try to take it a day at a time. Not get too involved in all that outside attention. That’s not really my thing. It never has been.”
But McDermott isn’t the only player that deserves attention and this is not a one-man team. The Jays are getting contributions from everyone that sets foot on the court. Senior guard Grant Gibbs has been steady all year, and put together one of his stronger all-around games of the season against the Panthers with 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Sophomore point guard Austin Chatman continues to get better and better in his first year as a starter, and finished with 12 points and four assists. Redshirt freshman guard/forward Nevin Johnson, who spent most of the year on the bench and out of the rotation, has earned his way onto the court. He only played two minutes against Northern Iowa, pulling down two rebounds and dishing out one assist, but has played well enough that he should continue getting opportunities to play and contribute to the team.
But the surprise star of the game off the bench for the Jays was sophomore center Will Artino. With senior center Gregory Echenique and junior forward Ethan Wragge both saddled with foul trouble, head coach Greg McDermott called upon the reserve big man to step in and step up, and he delivered. Artino tied his season high in minutes with 12 and rebounds with four, scored six points, recorded one assist and blocked one shot.
“Will Artino came in and played fabulous,” Greg McDermott said. “He made some plays around the basket, made some plays on the perimeter passing the basketball on a night when we needed him when Gregory was in foul trouble.”
The Jays hit the road for their next three games. Their first test will come at Wichita State University. The Shockers are right on the Bluejays’ heels in the MVC standings at 5-1 in conference and 16-2 on the season. Senior forward Carl Hall, who was leading the Shockers in scoring and rebounding before going down, returned from injury in the Shockers’ win against Illinois State University after missing the past eight games. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday.
After Wichita State, the Jays will travel to Drake University on Wednesday for the second meeting of the year. The Jays easily beat the Bulldogs at home 91-61 behind 22 points from Wragge. The Jays wrap up their road trip at Southern Illinois on Jan. 27.